Backup RAW Images

by Wren McMains

(This is one of many pages of tips on Organizing Your Images.)

Before doing any work on my images I backup the folder with my RAW images. Why?

  • I can then re-format my camera card and still have a backup. I know you can delete the images with FastStone as soon it downloads them, but by not deleting them I still have a backup in case I do something stupid during the previous steps. Instead, whenever I stick a new card in my camera I re-format it using that camera. With my cameras it takes only a couple of seconds and I've read this improves your odds of not having problems with the camera writing to the card.
  • Protects me from doing something stupid which results in deleting a RAW file or whole folder by mistake. I know you never make that kind of mistake, but I sure do.
  1. In my case, because I use Capture NX to add the keywords inside my RAW file, the date modified on the RAW files has changed. For a variety of reasons I like that date to match the "Time Taken", so first thing I do is make it match.
  2. I also like the date modified of my "Review Copy JPGs" to match the "Time Taken". FastStone has a quick fix. Select all the images in folder with the review copies and choose "Change Timestamp":


    Make sure you have blue outlines around all your thumbnails (as above), then you know all your images are selected. Next you'll get the dialog box below. Choose the options shown: "File Timestamp" and "Date/Time Photo Taken"


  3. This works fine in folders with my review copy JPGs, but may not work if the date/time has changed on your RAW files (FastStone doesn't find the date/time stamp in some camera's RAW files). If your process changes the date/time of your RAW files (like mine does) e-mail me and I'll send you a work-around.
  4. Once I'm happy with all the time/time stamps, I'm ready to backup. The question is where? Options:
    • DVD (high resolution cameras produce such large files, CDs don't hold enough images).
    • Another hard drive (preferable one on another machine, or an external hard drive you normally keep turned off).

    See xxx for a discussion of various media.
  5. When I'm travelling, I always take along a laptop and make at least one DVD as each originals folder reaches its maximum size. I do this so it can be carried in a bag different from my laptop to protect against loss or failure of the laptop. (My laptop, unlike most, has two internal hard drives, so until a folder reaches its maxium size I backup to the second drive. Protects against drive failure, but not loss of laptop.)
  6. At home I use SyncToy to backup to a hard drive on another machine. (The process to backup to an external hard drive is exactly the same except for the action used.) SyncToy works based on folder pairs. The left-hand folder (and all its sub-folders) is backed up to the right-hand folder. You setup a folder pair once (using the "Create New Folder Pair" button at the bottom) and from then on select the folder pair and click on the "Preview" button.
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With these folder pairs (green highlights) I'm backing up my entire tree of original images from all my cameras for all years that are stored on my E drive (on this machine), to a drive on a remote machine which I keep mounted on this machine as drive Y. (The paths on both machines are the same, but they don't have to be, I just keep them the same to make it less confusing; I'm confused enough.)

When backing up to another machine I recommend the "Synchronize" action (yellow highlight); when backing up to an external hard drive I recommend the "Echo" action. Reason: "Echo" will make the backup (right-hand tree) match the source (left-hand tree) and probably makes sense with an external hard drive since you probably want to delete any files you deleted from the source; "Synchronize" assumes you might have made changes on both sides and want to backup in both directions. See SyncToy for links to download SyncToy and a description of all the actions.

What's important is that you NEVER just run the backup. Instead ALWAYS click on "Preview" first and study exactly what's going to happen. This preview is actually for a Folder pair that just backs up my 2008 original images (SyncToy shows it's creation). It only takes SyncToy 15 seconds to preview this backup, as compared to 2.5 minutes to preview my entire Org tree. Once the Preview runs (may take a couple of minutes or more depending on the size of your trees) you'll get a box like this:


Unlike many menu/dialog boxes that pop-up, this one can be resized. I recommend you either maximize it, or drag a corner to resize it. It's important to carefully review exactly what SyncToy is going to do (you'll often find you want to move some files around or make other changes before running SyncToy). It's hard to review unless you can read the file names and paths, so the next thing I do is either double click on the gray lines (green arrows) between the column labels, or grap the those lines and move them to resize the columns:


In the example above you're able to see the file names, complete paths, and all the other information on one screen. (If you have long folder and/or file names you have to scroll around a log more.) The most important things to look at are the lines in RED. They show files that will be deleted or overwritten. The example above is typical (although most of the time you might have hundreds of new files, not just a few as shown here). You can ignore BridgeCatch and Thumbs.db files, they just contain thumbnails for Bridge and Windows and might be newer on either side, just let SyncToy update them.
Next we see some "Rename" operations. These occur when you move files from one folder to another, instead of re-copying the files, SyncToy duplicates your moves on the other side by renaming the path on the other side. In this case, on the other machine (network drive mounted as Y), I had moved 3 files from the wm08j folder to the wm08k folder and SyncToy is duplicating this move on drive E. (You'll often move files once you realize a folder has reached your size limit, so expect to see these "Renames".)
Next we see 5 XMP files that are being copied from drive E to drive Y, again something you would typically see after using Photoshop to do RAW conversion on one side or the other.
Next we see a JPG file that's appeared on the E drive. It must have been a conversion I stored there by mistake. I don't really want it there and plan to move it so I don't want to copy it. I can just un-check that line (see below) and it won't be copied (but you should use another window to move it now while you're thinking about it).


Next we see some new BridgeCache files which we ignore. Then the 5 new NEF files we just downloaded. And finally, a "Create Folder" operation since we must have created a new Org folder (the same folder we also moved the 3 previous images into).
As I say this is typical of what you'll see in a preview. It just gets long if you downloaded lots of images. In only takes a minute to scan down all the operations ... what you're looking for is something odd ... then you have to ask yourself do I really want to adding/removing these files from my backup.
If not, I'll often "Close" this window and "Exit" SyncToy without running the update, and instead go straighten out the mess I've made. If everything is OK, don't forget you haven't done your backup yet. Close this window, and then press "Run" in the original SyncToy window (the one with the green and yellow highlights above).
The following three screen shots are more typical of what you'll see (and you can see by the position of the marker (green arrows) on the scroll bar, three screens only gets you about a quarter of the way to the end).


I always scroll by clicking on the blank space (red arrows) on the scroll bar, that gives me a new page each time, and I don't miss any files. (Much easier than keeping tracking of lines as they scroll up.)


However, since everything looks the same, it's just new files being added (plus the JPG we don't want to copy) so you can scroll quickly.


Bottom Line: 


  1. Trees not guaranteed to match after running SyncToy, see
  2. DVDs frequently fail, see

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